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Squalor, chaos and feelings of disgust: care workers talk about older people with alcohol problems



Older persons with alcohol problems have today become an all too common part of everyday elder care, but research in this area is still scarce. This article has a Swedish context with the aim of describing and analysing home care workers’ narratives about older people who can be characterised as heavy drinkers, i.e. people with severe alcohol problems who need considerable care for extended periods. Limited knowledge is available concerning this age group. This article therefore fills a knowledge gap about home care workers’ perspective about body work and the abject, and breaches the myth that older individuals should be able to drink as they prefer and/or notions of drinking alcohol as a last enjoyment in life. The care workers talked about how they got drawn into the daily lives of the care recipients and how they ended up in situations where they, on the one hand, removed the consequences of drinking, and on the other, felt that they sustained the drinking by cleaning out dirt and washing the care recipients’ bodies.

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This is an Open Access article, distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution licence (, which permits unrestricted re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

Corresponding author

Address for correspondence: Lis Bodil Karlsson, Department of Social Work, Stockholm University, 106 91 Stockholm, Sweden E-mail:


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Squalor, chaos and feelings of disgust: care workers talk about older people with alcohol problems



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